“Google and Apple Remove App Aimed at Spurring Protest Voting in Russia” reported The New York Times on 9/17/2021. Specifically, the article talks about how ahead of the Russian elections, both the Google Play store and the Apple App Store removed apps created with the help of Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny specifically listing candidates to vote for who would have the best chance of insuring Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is removed from power.
The reason Apple and Google did this was simple, because the Russian government told them to:
Google removed the app Friday morning after the Russian authorities issued a direct threat of criminal prosecution against the company’s staff in the country, naming specific individuals, according to a person familiar with the company’s decision. The move comes one day after a Russian lawmaker raised the prospect of retribution against employees of the two technology companies, saying they would be “punished.”
Of course, both Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google Vice President Kent Walker — rightfully — condemned Georgia’s voter suppression law earlier this year. However, it seems while companies are willing to issue basic press releases saying they support democracy, their actual willingness to fight for it is rather limited. In a country with leaders who actually cared about democracy, Apple and Google would be refusing to back down and instead start calling on the Biden Administration to take in these employees as political refugees — which they would obviously qualify as. Instead, we get these companies giving up the fight and the majority of Americans not even talking about it.
It should be noted that the Russian government based this crackdown on the absurd notion that Google and Apple were “interfering with Russian elections” through allowing anti-Putin activists to post freely. Even ignoring the fact that the Putin government has no right to complain about election interference, this claim is obviously nonsensical. All Apple and Google did was allow Russian locals to express their views and express support for certain candidates. Basically, all Apple and Google did was allow Russians to engage in the most basic practices of free and fair elections — encouraging people to vote for their preferred candidate.
Of course, if Google and Apple are “interfering” in that system through making the oligarchic Russian government more democratic, then that is good and should be encouraged by democratic countries across the globe. Instead, in the modern nationalist world order, companies are just supposed to work with authoritarian regimes and never take a moral stand against them.
Of course, this is far from surprising. On 6/9/2021, New Statesman published an article with the headline “How social media companies help authoritarian governments censor the internet.” The article talks about recent crackdowns by authoritarian governments and how, more often than not, big-tech companies are willing to go along with them no questions asked.
To put it simply, big companies will not save democracy. In a free market system, their goal is to simply do whatever makes them the most money without any concern for the long-term implications. If democracy is to be saved, democratic governments need to get these companies under control before oligarchical governments have the chance to do the same. Otherwise, we can soon expect the Russian government will not be the only one Apple and Google work to appease, and at the expense of democracy.
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